Remembering The Liberian Senate

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

One of the beats (place of assignment) that I learned a lot was the Liberian Senate. Even though as a reporter with the Daily Observer at the time, I was assigned to cover the Legislature and the Executive Mansion and I spent most of my time at the Legislature because it was a place of many activities. I spent a lot of my time in that building with the Senate, especially so because of the confirmation hearing of presidential nominees, in keeping with the Liberian Constitution, which empowers the Senate to hold confirmation hearing for certain individuals named to certain positions in government, and later make presentment to the President for appointment into the government.

Sometimes people do not know the difference between nomination and appointment. A nomination is subject to confirmation, while appointment is not. This is why whenever the President nominates; some elements of the media refer to it as appointment. This is wrong. Appointment comes after confirmation hearing of those nominees. Covering Senate at the time was educative as I learned lots of things. It was then that I got to know the difference when a decision is made based on consensus or made unanimously. Thanks to the late Tuan Wreh for that education.

During those days, one of the major events or happenings at the Senate was the confirmation hearing. Unlike today, confirmation hearing those days was done by the plenary of the Senate. Today, it begins in committee room and later the plenary, meaning that each senator was given the opportunity to quiz the nominee, which was followed by voting. But today, the committee with oversight responsible function usually receives the presidential nominees after the communication is read on the floor of the Senate from the Chief Executive.

In this process, the plenary of the Senate receives the communication and later mandates the relevant committee to proceed with the nominee(s) hearing process in a committee’s room. In that room, a vetting exercise is done with a review of credentials, experience, and other professional qualification that may lead such person to confirmation. Thereafter, the committee reports back to plenary with a recommendation to either confirm or deny the nominee(s). Currently, the confirmation is done in Executive Session and not in open session as it is expected.

Like today, the criteria set to review the credentials of these nominees were the same. As I reflect on those days in the Liberian Senate, I am reminded of the role of then Grand Kru Senator, the late Tuan Wreh, a former lawyer and journalist who was very tough during confirmation hearings. The late senator was admired by many for his high level of research on certain nominees.

Some of the toughest hearings were that involving Robert Tubman, then nominee for the  position of Minister of Finance; Elijah Taylor, then nominee for the position of Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs and Dr. Isaac Wiles, then nominee for the position of Deputy Minister of Justice. As I reminiscent, I still remember during one hearing, the late President Samuel K. Doe was infuriated on grounds that some senators from the then ruling party, the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL), were being very tough on some nominees, including a female who was nominated to the Supreme Court bench, but was later discovered not to be qualified as she had not met the qualification criteria to sit on the bench as one of its Justices. At the time the late Doe felt disappointed that some of his party men were “not pushing his line” to get the nominees confirmed.

Today, I am looking back because of the ongoing debate on the nomination and confirmation hearing of Madam Mary T. Broh, as Mayor of Monrovia. The impression is being created that Madam Broh may not appear before that body because she has been characterized as a “non-governmental material.”

Frankly, I try to disagree with those who hold the view that Madam Broh would not appear before that body because this will be unprecedented and outlandish. Never in my coverage of that body have I seen a nominee for whatever reasons had been denied the opportunity to appear before that body for confirmation hearing. No matter what may have happened between Madam Broh and that body, once she has been nominated by the President, the opportunity should be provided for her to appear. Even if there are instances in which when a nominee is rejected, the person may be re-nominated, and that person may be confirmed after a second thought.

Actually when I heard about this, I acquired from one of my law school classmates, Sen. Amah Jallah of Gbarpolu on the matter. He sounded different, and promised to get to me. I called him because one of the shortest maxims we learned in the law school in that, “he that decides must hear.” And so I am sure no matter the situation, Madam Broh will appear to either be rejected, as a reinforcement on the issue of “non-governmental material” or be confirmed, as part of the process of reconciliation, as Bong County Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor said recently. I rest my case for now.